I take a certain amount of pleasure in holding unpopular opinions. I’m a contrarian by disposition and I don’t shy away from controversy. That’s not to say that I’m endlessly argumentative or that I disagree for the sake of being disagreeable. But, like Michael Palin in a famous Monty Python sketch, I enjoy a good argument. I suppose that’s why I like philosophy.
I should probably say something about these ‘unpopular’ opinions. Of course, ‘unpopular’ is relative to different communities and peer groups. The peer group I have in mind is the academically inclined, the intelligentsia, the people who are likewise attracted to philosophy. My views have never fit comfortably with the reigning paradigm among these types. For example, when I embarked upon my studies, I held fairly conservative religious views. Those are perennially unpopular in mainstream academia. Although I no longer hold those views, I miss the satisfaction I derived from holding them in defiance of the majority. Fortunately, that loss is partially mitigated by the fact that I still hold other views that are unpopular in academic circles, namely political views. I enjoy it when academic types take it for granted that I espouse the leftist consensus and enjoy watching their surprise when they find out I don’t. What that says about my psychology, I leave to you.
This contrarian streak is one of the reasons that I enjoy blogging. I don’t go out of my way to say provocative or controversial things on this blog, but I speak my mind freely and appreciate having an outlet in which to do that. Although I spoke my mind in academia too — probably too much for someone without tenure — I didn’t feel particularly free there. I noticed faculty — even tenured faculty — playing careerist games and going along with the consensus even if they personally didn’t buy it. I could never bring myself to do that. Now that I’m on the outside, as it were, I feel quite a bit more free to say what I like. However, the question is: Should I exercise that freedom or should I curb my contrarian spirit?
I ask because I recently had a conversation with a friend about ‘personal branding’ (a term I loathe, by the way). Since I’m starting my own business, she suggested that I need to be conscious about my ‘brand.’ And since my ‘brand’ is basically me, I should control the image I put out there. For example, I might want to shy away from controversial topics on my blog — e.g. politics, religion, all the fun topics — and use my internet presence exclusively for branding purposes. Needless to say, my contrarian nature is inclined to disagree with her, but I’m willing to acknowledge some good sense in what she said. If my target audience or market is intellectual types, I might not want to immediately alienate them by advertising the ways in which my opinion likely differs from theirs. Of course, the purpose of philosophical counseling is not to convert anybody to my way of thinking on any given topic. Rather, it’s to help them explore what they believe. As a professional, I’m able to look at problems in a neutral and objective way. I was able to do that in my teaching role, and I’m also able to do that in my counseling role. Nevertheless, it’s possible that someone may choose not to hire me based on my contrarian views.
To that I’m inclined to shrug and say, ‘Oh well.’ I can’t please everyone. If that person doesn’t want to hire me, someone else will. I appreciate honesty and don’t want to create a ‘digital self’ that doesn’t represent who I am. Of course, I want to come across as friendly rather than prickly — as philosophers can do — but I want to be genuine, not phoney. I figure people will either respond to that or they won’t. Again, it’s not about needlessly courting controversy; it’s about authenticity.
As I said, however, I acknowledge the good sense in my friend’s counsel. She also talked about being a bridge builder rather than a bridge burner, which is sound networking advice. Perhaps that requires a different touch than the rough-and-ready discourse one finds in the blogosphere. So I suppose there is an optimal balance. But I’m not going to stop blogging in favor of ‘branding.’ I don’t think the two goals are mutually exclusive — blogging is part of my ‘public self’ after all — but I also think that most people are clever enough to see through ‘branding’ that isn’t authentic. I’ll just present myself honestly and if there’s a market for what I do, great. If not, I’ll fade away. In the meantime, however, I’ll keep calm and blog on.